Guilt, the default emotion for most mothers, is defined by the Oxford English dictionary as “a feeling of having committed wrong or failed in an obligation.” This pretty much sums up my experience of motherhood thus far and I suspect this was the same for my mother and her mother and her mother to infinity (and beyond!)
The guilt of motherhood begins the second you realise you are pregnant. There seems to be a switch in the brain that is suddenly triggered and every choice you make and action you take from that day forward will be dissected and questioned by this emotion until you feel guilty for spending so much time feeling guilty!
“Oh no, I drank that glass of wine the week I ovulated.” “I haven’t eaten the ‘recommended’ 50 portions of fruit and veg today”, “I’m not cut out to be a mother.” You name it, you will feel guilty about it.
And then the day finally comes that your precious little bundle arrives and is handed to you and your guilt is cranked up to a whole new sadistic level. Never before will you have experienced such all-encompassing guilt, you feel guilty about things that you didn’t even know it was possible to feel so strongly about. Here are some of mine:
• I failed at breast feeding (three times).
• I hated breast feeding.
• My two year old has a dummy (yes, still!)
• My baby sleeps on his tummy and I can’t watch him every second of the night to return him to the correct “safe” position. In fact, when he’s actually asleep I do not venture anywhere near him!
• My two year old (who has a dummy) isn’t potty trained.
• I haven’t shaved my legs for a week…or longer.
• I eat too much chocolate.
• Sometimes I don’t enjoy every second of motherhood.
• I didn’t use non-bio washing powder to wash my babies clothes last week
• I’m eating hot toast made of white bread and smothered in real butter as I type.
The list is endless. But there are a few things that have caused me more guilt than most. Feelings of guilt which are sometimes compounded by the comments and beliefs of those around me and the general consensus of the media and I would like to share my top three.
1. Yes, my children are all vegetarian and no, I am not.
Food is perhaps the most guilt inducing issue of parenthood, after all you and you alone are in charge of raising healthy, well-nourished children. Right from the get go the benefits of breast feeding are forced down your neck with great gusto from every health professional on the planet and then you move on to weaning. How soon is too soon? Are you baby led weaning? Are you blending up wholesome home cooked recipes full of quinoa and avocado? Are you spoon feeding them and taking away their independence that will affect them for the rest of their lives? Have you committed the BIGGEST sin of all and fed them baby food from a jar?
As your baby gets older you will realise what a load of shit this is. I don’t often swear in blogs, but really the pressure to be perfect when feeding your children drives me insane.
Added to this I have also had to include in every conversation with a health visitor that my children are all vegetarian, like their dad. This was usually met with looks of utter confusion and fear, followed by two questions; 1. But you eat meat and fish? 2. How will you give them protein?
If I had said that they didn’t eat meat on religious or cultural grounds nobody would have questioned my decision, but because it was a choice based on their father’s beliefs I was grilled on this like a slice of bacon (in a grill). And it wasn’t just health professionals who were horrified, friends and family too looked very concerned when I said that my children would all be vegetarian. I was half expecting an ‘intervention’ from social services.
PROTEIN was a word that caused me no end of stress with my first child. I tried everything to get him to eat eggs, beans, pulses, lentils etc. but he just liked chips and pizza! I researched, I shopped organically, I cooked, I blended, and I froze things (I was into all things ‘frozen’ long before Disney) and then… I gave up! It turns out that he is just a fussy eater and actually although he’s as skinny as a rake, he’s fine. And now that I’ve relaxed he eats so much more.
The other two eat pretty much anything, veggie curry with rice and “Cockadums”! Chilli, pastas, pizzas, eggs, cheeses, and so much fruit and veg I can’t keep up. They also eat biscuits, sweets, chocolate and cake, but who cares!? They have only been to MacDonald’s once (I’m not sure if that is something I should feel guilty about or not?) They are all thriving and I am beginning to feel much less guilty about this choice now as it’s emerging in the media that meat is not as good for us as we once believed! Maybe I will start lecturing other people on what they feed their children? Or maybe I’ll just be happy that for once we made a good choice.
2. Dirty weekends are now of the muddy variety
Like many couples who are “blessed” with children, time for myself and my husband to do anything on our own is pretty non-existent. Passion is a word that is now only proceeded by ‘fruit’ and intimacy has become a distant memory. (If I’m lucky he might whack me on the bum with a wooden spoon when I’m washing up!)
Gone are the long weekends in Paris, lovely lazy holidays in Normandy, peaceful trips to art galleries and heavenly Sunday lie ins drinking tea and watching something that isn’t Peppa bloody Pig on TV!
Now we have three children a ‘dirty’ weekend entails constantly clearing up, making food, clearing up food, children’s entertainment and washing copious amounts of mud from the kitchen floor and children’s clothing. Again this brings on feelings of guilt in me that I didn’t know were possible. I feel guilty because
• I spend 99% of my time looking like a tramp
• I haven’t plucked my eyebrows in two months
• My knickers and bra NEVER match
• We haven’t been out on our own in a year
• And I’m not the skinny, pert 20 something girl he married 9 years ago!
In the brief moments of peace we do have together I can guarantee you that at least one of us will fall asleep on the sofa! Oh the guilt!
3. The guilt of three
This may seem like a weird thing to feel guilty about, but believe me it’s there and it comes in many forms. Firstly I feel guilty for having three children and writing about the trials and tribulations of everyday life as a mum of three when I know that there are so many people who are desperate to have even one child. I know this because I’ve spent a decade of my life as one of these people, and I’ve been to some pretty dark and desperate places on this quest. (And now look what happened!)
I feel guilty because with three children I am limited to the time I can devote to each of them. This was compounded by the comments of my first born on the arrival of his baby sister when he said “Why did you have her anyway? She’s your baby, you can look after her”. He was less than impressed at having to share daddy, who he’d had to himself for a full five years before his little world was shattered by the arrival of a Princess Diva! (As I type this they are playing very nicely together, so I think I am forgiven!)
Then there was the ‘surprise’ addition of baby number three and the guilt that I only had a short 18 months where my daughter was the baby of the family before her baby brother arrived! I told you it was endless.
But the thing that is the most difficult with three children is that I have no time. No time to see friends and family, no time to eat and no time to brush my hair and have a wee! And if I do make time I feel guilty for not doing whatever I was supposed to be doing!
I am forever saying “I’m just doing this, and then I’ll do that.” “I’m just up to my (probably hairy) armpits in poop and then yes you can have a biscuit.” And I don’t think the Sky sales rep expected this reply when he said “When would be a good time to call you back madam?” and I responded “Erm… in about five years” and promptly put the phone down! (Sorry Sky, provider of Cartoon Network and giver of endless hours of Peppa Pig, we love you really!)
So there you have it, my top three reasons for feeling guilty. I could go on, but I have already used up so much time I’m going to be feeling guilty for the rest of the day! Better go and see what the children are up to…
PS: I sent this blog to Louise and my mum for editing as I always do and my mum sent this really funny reply about her own parenting guilt! (I told you she was as guilty as me!)
Now I feel guilty for being a terrible mother! You had a dummy at 3. It was glued to your face. We thought you would walk down the aisle with it in your cake-ole! I used to forget to feed you. You went out with no knickers on once! The wind blew and I saw it! I didn’t breast feed either of you. Nothing to put in your mouth!!!! And I’m sorry for making you feel guilty about vegetarianism. I get it from my mother! Night night xxx